The farthest thing from most college students’ minds is perfecting a baby food recipe. But during her grad school days at Columbia University, Shazi Visram was already brainstorming how organic baby food could save the world.
“A friend was complaining about store-bought processed baby food. I live a clean, natural lifestyle, and it made me think, ‘I wouldn’t eat that,’” Visram says. So she set out to create something better, and to make a social impact along the way.
In 2006—two years after graduation— Happy Family debuted on the shelves of Gourmet Garage, a chain of speciality food markets in New York City, with the charitable promise to make a positive social impact for children around the world.
The company, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this Mother's Day, continues to emphasize its social mission by partnering with advocacy groups and nonprofits like March of Dimes and Autism Speaks. And as Visram and her cofounder Jessica Rolph have had babies of their own, motherhood reaffirmed Happy Baby’s commitment to families too.
“I’ve always felt like my consumers were my babies, but it became way more real when I had my son, who’s been the inspiration for product development,” Visram says. And the company’s commitment to families has, in turn, been the driving force for innovation: Happy Family is the first brand to offer organic puffs, introduce probiotics in stage one foods and, most recently, the first to manufacture completely transparent pouch packaging.
Noticing a need
“I was fascinated when I learned 16 percent of toddlers are obese. We have a children’s health crisis on our hands, and the answer is diet and nutrition. The first two years of life are critical for laying a foundation for health and creating taste preferences around food. We’re creating delicious, organic food that offers the nutrition children need depending on their developmental stage.”
Blazing a path
“I was known as the ‘Baby Food Girl’ in business school; they all thought I was crazy. This was before there was an emphasis on social responsibility in entrepreneurship. Most people had dollar signs in their eyes all the time. I was the black sheep, and now I’m on the board of the Columbia Business School.”
Close to home
“My son, Zane, was born in 2010, six months after we launched the [Happy Family baby food] pouches. He’s been the inspiration for the rest of our product development. He was diagnosed with autism at age 2, and that solidified my mission of keeping toxins out of food. It’s very inspiring to be driven by your own personal needs.”
Making a difference
“Many of the nonprofits we partner with have personal significance to me. We support Autism Speaks and started the Happy Family Children’s Village in Tanzania, 65 miles away from where my dad grew up, which serves as a group home and school for kids permanently separated from their families. But we make sure whatever we support helps children in need. Initiatives like this earned us the recognition of President Obama, who invited me to a 2013 Ramadan dinner and spoke about Happy Family’s story. I was really pinching myself.”